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Kidderminster Public Realm. My role: lead designer at IBI

Innovative analysis of shared space

2017 Commended, Transport Practitioners, Urban Transport Design Award

About the project

General

  

The project, completed in September 2016, included two new squares, the main retail streets and one of the approach streets. 

Part of the project was Exchange Place, a road junction outside the Town Hall which was characterised by a large swathe of tarmac to accommodate the swept paths of buses negotiating a sharp right turn and service vehicles accessing the main retail street and shopping mall service entrance. 

IBI designers saw the opportunity to create a new town square out of what appeared to be a road junction. Three high quality, historic buildings, including the Town Hall, formed the square. The concept drew these together with an expanse of black granite paving and white granite detailing representing the Penny Black Stamp celebrating Sir Roland Hill, inventor of the modern postal system, who’s statue stood in the space. 

IBI also developed artwork concepts for street furniture, which linked to Robert Plant of LED Zeppelin who grew up in Kidderminster. This included benches designed as stacks of vinyl and guitar fret boards. This has helped support the development of a Music Heritage Trail in the town.

The main aim of the project was to support the revitalisation of the Town Centre, since the project started, there has been an upturn in the take-up of commercial premises within the area of the public realm scheme including:

· The refurbishment of the historic Brinton’s building next to the Town Hall as offices for 100 people

· A new Café on Exchange Place

A Pandora’s jewellers shop on the second square 

Design Ethos

The main aim of the project was town centre regeneration, so improving the pedestrian experience was key whilst providing more opportunities for organising events, but the space had to continue to support through traffic including regular bus and service vehicles. 

Workshops were held with council officers and members at concept and design development work stages and public consultation was also undertaken at these stages. Specific workshops were further undertaken with the local access group, bus and taxi operators, and shop owners. The workshop with the access group, at the Developed Design stage, involved a site visit with officers to discuss the proposals where the only concerns were with the position of disabled parking bays which were subsequently relocated.


Concept

IBI designers saw the opportunity to create a new town square out of what appeared to be a road junction. Three high quality, historic buildings, including the Town Hall, formed the square. The concept drew these together with an expanse of black granite paving and white granite detailing representing the Penny Black Stamp celebrating Sir Roland Hill, inventor of the modern postal system, who’s statue stood in the space. 

Initially the design included a separate carriageway for vehicles, with vertical kerb separation. As the design developed it was recognised that, due to geometries, virtually the whole of the outer kerb of this carriageway would have to be a dropped kerb to accommodate service vehicle access. This meant most users would experience the space as a level surface so, through design wokshops, proposals for a level surface with no indication of the carriageway were developed as it was felt that identifying a vehicular space would encourage higher traffic speeds and greater risk for pedestrians.


Developing the Design

The concept was therefore for a civic square that appears to be a pedestrian space where drivers would feel they have to behave as guests. To slow traffic on the approach to the space, a central granite sett median strip in asphalt carriageway indicated a change in environment reinforced by a 50mm ramped level change on entrance to the square. Benches were located centrally and at the entrance to the space to bolster the pedestrian perception. A shiny red post box creates a dramatic contrast with the black granite. 

Following trial hole investigations it was established that a sustainable, cost saving solution would be to retain the existing highway and drainage system. Exchange Place is one of the most important locations in Kidderminster so required the use of high quality natural stone but savings were made elsewhere in the project by developing a Gold, Silver, Bronze materials hierarchy and taking a strategic approach to the town’s public realm. A rigid, mortared bedding and jointing system was used with 170mm deep granite blocks used on the most trafficked portion of the square where buses make a turning movement and 100mm deep units on the less trafficked areas away from the bus route.


Outcome

As part of a Stage 3 Road Safety Audit of the scheme, an independent review of pedestrian and vehicular behaviour was undertaken. This has followed some concerns about inappropriate vehicular activity and perceptions that the bench, located at the entrance to the space to emphasise the pedestrian nature of the square, was in a dangerous position. These concerns received local and regional publicity and were a subject for local political debate.

The surveys involved a seven day traffic count, video analysis of pedestrian and vehicle movement patterns on the busiest day and a manual speed survey. The survey concluded:

· The average vehicle speed was very low both: on Exchange Street approaching the square at 13.2mph; and reducing to 10.8mph through Exchange Place. The maximum recorded speed was 18mph suggesting that the 20mph speed limit which some people had requested would be meaningless and perhaps counter-productive if motorists saw this as a target, it was also decided ‘shared space’ signage were unnecessary as motorists clearly interpreted the nature of the space appropriately.

· Traffic volumes are low, just over two vehicles per minute and vehicles trafficked very consistent and predictable paths through the square despite the lack of road markings so additional delineation was not considered necessary. 

· Pedestrians use the whole space and cross the vehicle paths, in the square and the approach to it, on very long diagonals suggesting they feel comfortable within the space.

· The most popular bench is that positioned at the main vehicular entrance to the square, the one which had attracted the publicity and concerns about it being in an unsafe position, this is twice as popular as any of the other benches, suggesting people do not feel unsafe sitting in this location. 

This evidence, along with a settling down period, meant WCC Highways team were comfortable with the design of the space and only requested one additional bollard be located to encourage motorists to take a slightly wider turning movement away from the bank entrance on the inside corner. 

Testimonial

“Wyre Forest District Council has been pleased to be associated with Taylor Young (now part of the IBI Group) for over 10 years on a number of design commissions, the most recent one being a £2m public realm improvement scheme in Kidderminster town centre.

The IBI team are adept at understanding the nature of the design commission and translating it into exciting and innovative designs that are well grounded in the practicalities of implementation and within the budget envelope set.

The IBI team are politically astute and understand very well the democratic process associated with public sector commissions and are very comfortable with Member and public liaisons as well as the requirements of statutory undertakers.      

To my recollection the latest scheme is the fourth project that the IBI team have been involved in with WFDC which is testament to the fact that we have been very happy to use them on more than one occasion and that continues to be the case.”

Jonathan Elmer
Economic Development and Regeneration Manager (Place)
North Worcestershire Economic Development and Regeneration